The Harbeth P3ESR

Editor's Note: You're probably looking at the high-water mark for speaker reviews here at InnerFidelity---I'll let my colleagues at Stereophile and AudioStream report on speakers up the food chain from here. But I do like to review compact speakers which might find their way into your personal desktop listening system, and since Steve has been reviewing the more expensive near-field speakers here, I asked him to have a listen to what I consider one of the very best. My Harbeths are actually the now-discontinued HL-P3ES-2, which are forerunners of the P3ESR, and I must admit to being quite jealous of Steve's opportunity to audition a pair of these gems. I guess I'm just going to have to settle for a vicarious listen through Steve's ears.

Harbeth P3ESR (starting at $2095)
While Harbeth may be one of the most traditional of British speaker manufacturers, I can't recall ever hearing a Harbeth I didn't like. I can't say the same for Bowers & Wilkins, Celestion, KEF, Linn, Monitor Audio, Quad or Wharfedale speakers. Harbeths always sound right---disarming in a way that makes them hard to criticize, you just sit back and enjoy the music. The little Harbeth P3ESR I'm reviewing here did nothing to change my impressions of the brand. The company was founded in 1977 by Alan Shaw, a former BBC research engineer.

It's also worth noting that all of the other brands mentioned above now build some or all of their speakers "off shore," but Harbeths are still home grown. Shaw could cut costs by outsourcing production, but he chooses not to and therefore maintains complete control over how his speakers are built. The downside to that policy is Harbeths are expensive, so sure, you can easily find cheaper alternatives. The speakers are made by hand and sold in matched pairs.


When you lift a P3ESR out of the shipping box its 13.9 pound heft feels impressively heavy for a fairly small speaker (it's 12 by 7.3 by 8 inches). Peel off the grille and you'll see the .75 inch SEAS metal dome tweeter and a 5 inch Radial2 carbon-fiber/bextrene/polypropylene composite woofer, which was developed in-house at Harbeth. Look closer and you'll note the woofer's frame is out of sight, because the woofer is mounted from the inside of the cabinet! Ah, that's why there are visible screws on the backside of the cabinet (so you can replace the driver if need be).

The rear panel has a pair of beefy, gold-plated binding posts. The black cloth speaker grille doesn't have a MDF backing, the metal perimeter of the low-diffraction grille frame fits into a corresponding slot on the front baffle. It's that sort of design detail that distinguishes Harbeth from the competition. Shaw says the speakers are built to last at least 25 years, and when you hold one in your hands you'll believe him.

Harbeth Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Fidelis AV
14 E. Broadway (Route 102)
Derry, NH 03038
(603) 437-4769

dalethorn's picture

I had the Rogers LS3/5A in the late 70's, purchased in Pittsburgh. The sample pair they loaned me while I waited for the new set had a bad driver. So already I was scared to play them loud. I remember a review comment at the time, possibly by Gordon Holt: "Minimum power required, 25 watts -- maximum power input, 25 watts." Something to that effect. In a very small room where I did play them they sounded a bit bassy. Using them in a larger room farther from the wall didn't seem like a good idea due to the maximum power issue. So I wonder how the newer Harbeth compares in real-world power handling.

donunus's picture

The newer Harbeths (havent heard the latest but the late 2000 models) are crazy good. Out of some Accuphase and Lamm electronics, I would say the Harbeth systems Ive heard compete with the best thats out there. Ive heard many systems in US audio stores and the Las Vegas CES has and only maybe 3 systems out there could hold my attention as much as a good harbeth setup.

13mh13's picture

Not sure why articles like this are being piped over to IF? I THOUGHT Tyll's little project was for mainly headphone and headphone-related gear. I can get THIS this article on Stereophile.

Stretch's picture


Tyll Hertsens's picture
IF is about personal audio. That includes everything from headphones to clock radios, IMHO. You betcha I'll be doing more headphones, but I also think it's important to cover all aspects of personal audio over time. There will be some overlap between IF, Streophile, and Audiostream. You'll just have to be patient and let the balance show over time.
woody's picture

if you actually have some reading comprehension, then you'd see that it was explained it here....

"Editor's Note: I'm endlessly asked on the InnerFidelity YouTube channel what kind of speakers I have on my desktop. Wanting to give a full answer, I asked Steve Guttenberg to review these lovely Harbeth speakers."

Swisslad's picture

Glaring errors on the first page...

Alan Shaw did not start the Harbeth company in 1977 as was stated in the review. The founder of Harbeth was Dudley Harwood. Alan Shaw bought the company from Harwood in 1986. The company is called Harbeth because Dudley Harwood took the first three letters of his surname and added the last three letters of his wife Elizebeth's first name, hence 'Har' 'Beth'. Similar to the reason another British speaker brand Spendor is named after Spencer and Dorothy Hughes.

Secondly, Harbeth's drivers are not composites of carbon fibre, Bextrene and polypropylene. This is the only place I've ever read that. You must have just guessed. They are actually made from a unique proprietary polymer named RADIAL which Harbeth spent years developing, part funded by the UK governement. No other manufacturer knows how to make it and no-one else could make it. It is highly complex and eradicates all the problems of bextrene and polypropylene which were the precursors of the RADIAL material.

Also, Alan Shaw was never a BBC research engineer, although he did work weekends for a BBC Radio studio as a youngster where he was first exposed to the BBC way of doing things. Before taking over at Harbeth, he worked in semi-conductors for NEC in Japan. Harbeth's founder Dudley Harwood was a BBC research engineer, in fact head of the department and was one of the principal designers of the LS3/5a.

This would have been simple to check by asking Harbeth to check the review before you published it. Instead we have more disinformation going round muddying the facts due to frankly, lazy journalism. Please improve for the benefit of your readers and your own journalistic integrity.

Steve Guttenberg's picture
I got some of the info (including the bit about the carbon fibre, Bextrene and polypropylene) from the importer, which is why I didn't do a fact check. So other than those boo-boos, what did you think of the review? I will try and do better.
The Monkey's picture
Do you happen to have any links that confirm your points? That would be helpful. Thanks!
Swisslad's picture

Not sure if you were asking for links about my points but if so, the best place for Harbeth information both technical and historical is Harbeth User Group:

DaveBSC's picture

In regards to Harbeths and other "vintage" style speakers, cabinet designed has moved on quite a bit since the days of the LS3/5A, and yet these just continue on as if nothing has changed since 1975, same old box as usual.

Don't they have a significant disadvantage in terms of diffraction and standing wave buildup vs. modern teardrop style cabinets?

Or you could go another route and cut 3/4 of the box open, ala Nola Micro Grand Reference. Best monitor on the planet IMO.

The Monkey's picture
First, I think nearfield listening is very much related to headphone listening and I think Tyll (and Steve) are on point here. Second, I heard HeadRoom's Harbeths a few years ago at CanJam in Florida and they blew my gotdam mind. I will own a pair one day.
Dr.Phil's picture

From your review, Stevem, I got the idea that the Adams are better ?
And they are also much more cheaper than the 2000$ harbeths which need a amplifier contrary to the Adams.

Also its time to get a pair of the new Adams with the X tweeter and review it ?

The overall impression say it's a big improvement to the old Adam you reviewed, so would be cool for further comparisons to compare with the actual Adams available for purchase.